(This report covers the period January-December 1997)
A prisoner of conscience remained imprisoned. Reports of torture and ill-treatment of detainees in police stations continued. Human rights defenders and journalists were subjected to death threats. There were reports of killings in circumstances suggesting possible extrajudicial executions.
Strikes and demonstrations against government economic policies took place throughout the year. Some became violent. Dozens of people were arrested and injured and at least one person was killed during clashes in the Federal Capital, Buenos Aires, and several provinces including Buenos Aires, Neuquén and Jujuy.
In November the UN Committee against Torture expressed concern about the increase in the quantity and gravity of abuses by police, which sometimes resulted in serious injuries or death, and at the discrepancy between the legal provisions for the prevention and punishment of torture and reality. The Committee pointed out the apparently recurrent pattern of police obstruction of judicial investigations into complaints of torture and ill-treatment, and the long delays in completing such investigations.
Legal initiatives taken in other countries to establish the fate of "disappeared" nationals in Argentina between 1976 and 1983 continued. The Argentine authorities refused to cooperate with Spanish court proceedings (see Amnesty International Report 1997). An investigation to find "disappeared" children was initiated by a federal judge in Buenos Aires. In July the non-governmental human rights organization Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo, Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, presented to the federal judge a list of 200 children abducted with their parents or born in captivity. A separate list of 40 cases was forwarded by the Under-Secretary of Human Rights. The abduction of children had been excluded from the Full Stop and Due Obedience laws and the subsequent presidential pardons of 1989 and 1990 which precluded investigations into "disappearances"
In October a federal judge accepted a petition submitted by non-governmental human rights organizations calling for an investigation of seven former high-ranking members of the army from past military governments, three government officials from the civilian government and several members of the judiciary, in connection with the fate of thousands of victims of past "disappearances".
One prisoner of conscience was held throughout the year. Fray Antonio Puigjane, a Franciscan friar, was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment in 1989 (see Amnesty International Report 1997). In December the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (iachr) reported on the cases of members of the Movimiento Todos por la Patria (mtp), All for the Fatherland Movement (see Amnesty International Reports 1990 to 1993). The iachr concluded that Argentina had violated the right to life of nine mtp members and the right to humane treatment of another 20, including Fray Antonio Puigjane. The iachr recommended an independent complete and impartial investigation into events in January 1989, in order to identify and punish those responsible for the violations. It also recommended that those tried under Law 23.077 be given the right to appeal and to compensation.
Reports of torture and ill-treatment by police continued. Many of the victims were detainees held in police stations, often under provincial police by-laws and the Code of Misdemeanours. For example, in January Gabriel Gutiérrez was arrested by members of the 4th police station of Florencio Varela, Buenos Aires Province, accused of infringing police by-laws. He died four hours later, reportedly as a result of a severe beating. The case against the police accused of responsibility for his death was dismissed by the relevant judge
Members of sexual minorities were reportedly ill-treated or tortured by police in Buenos Aires and the provincial cities of Rosario and Mendoza. There appeared to be a pattern of such incidents, although in most cases the names of victims were withheld because of fears for their safety. In February Adriana Cortés, a transsexual woman, was arrested in Mendoza, Mendoza Province, and taken to a police station. She was reportedly induced to have sex with a police officer in exchange for pain relief medication. After her release she filed a complaint and the police officer was transferred to another police station, but no further action was apparently taken
Human rights defenders and journalists were subjected to attacks, harassment and death threats. In May the premises of the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos, Cutral-Co Argentine Workers' Centre, in Neuquén Province, where the local Human Rights Commission has its offices, were attacked with incendiary devices. The Human Rights Commission had called for an investigation into the killing of Teresa Rodríguez (see below).
At least 30 journalists were subjected to attacks, repeated death threats and intimidation. In several cases information received indicated the possible involvement or acquiescence of the security forces. In January press photographer José Luis Cabezas was killed in Pinamar, Buenos Aires Province; the investigation into his death was still pending at the end of the year. In February Santo Biasatti, a radio and television journalist, received anonymous death threats warning that he would suffer the same fate as José Luis Cabezas and that members of the provincial police would abduct him. Also in February Daniel Stragá, a journalist and human rights lawyer at the non-governmental organization Coordinadora Contra la Represión Policial e Institucional (correpi), Association against Police and Institutional Repression, received an anonymous telephone call threatening his life (see Amnesty International Report 1996). In June, three journalists were subjected to anonymous death threats and the sister of one of them, María José Fernández Llorente, was attacked in Palermo, a Buenos Aires neighbourhood, by three men who cut her hand with a knife. In each incident, the death of José Luis Cabezas was referred to. In most cases, police protection was granted but there was no progress in establishing who was responsible for the threats.
There were reports of killings in circumstances suggesting possible extrajudicial executions. correpi recorded 14 cases of killings known as "gatillo fácil" ("trigger-happy") during the year (see Amnesty International Report 1996). For example, in July a police officer killed a 15-year-old youth and wounded another in Santiago del Estero, Santiago del Estero Province, allegedly because they had stolen a poster from a shop. The police officer was charged with homicide and grievous bodily harm.
At least one person was killed and many injured in disputed circumstances during countrywide demonstrations. In April Teresa Rodríguez, a mother of three, was shot dead in the town of Cutral-Co, Neuquén Province, during clashes between demonstrators and members of the police and the gendarmerie. In May more than 80 people, including several children, were reportedly injured with rubber bullets and as a result of beatings by the gendarmerie during demonstrations staged by sugar workers in the locality of Libertador General San Martín, Jujuy Province.
Throughout the year Amnesty International expressed concern to the government about attacks and threats against journalists and human rights defenders and called for prompt, thorough and conclusive investigations. In May Amnesty International wrote to President Carlos Saúl Menem, expressing concern at the killing of Teresa Rodríguez and the incidents in Jujuy and La Plata. No substantive response was received by the end of the year
In November Amnesty International submitted its concerns about the use of torture and ill-treatment in Argentina to the UN Committee against Torture.
Also in November Amnesty International publicly called on the Argentine authorities to cooperate with proceedings initiated by Spanish courts into "disappearances" under past military governments of Spanish nationals and people of Spanish descent.
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